What It Takes: Talking Through Trouble


March 29, 2021

Oakley joins Dr. John Collins for an in-depth discussion on what it takes to be a therapist.

When I first began writing "What it Takes," I was inspired by the simple question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

For me, it was a very confusing question. I mean really? How was I supposed to know? That was when I came up with the idea to interview professionals and learn more about what they do at their jobs.

In more than two years of writing, I've learned about photographers, teachers, equine care specialists, and most recently, college students. I have also gained an interest in talking to people and learning about their lives. It has made me wonder, maybe I have a potential career path in therapy. To learn more, I contacted a real life therapist and scheduled myself an interview.

My mom actually introduced me to clinical psychologist John Collins years ago. She introduced him as her "talking doctor." I was just a little kid then, but I knew how important it was to "use your words." What I didn't know was how important it is for adults to remember to use their words too, especially in stressful situations.

Dr. Collins practices psychology and behavioral health out of the Sanford Health Clinic in Jamestown, and he also travels to Carrington and Cooperstown weekly. I met with him at his Carrington office, where we talked about psychology, anxiety, depression and even some of the not-so-healthy reactions to stress.

For some reason, I always thought therapists had to be doctors. In Dr. Collins' case, he has a Ph.D. in psychology. He told me, ""Mental health (professionals) (are) in high demand. All you need is master's level training to get a good job as a therapist."

He went on to explain that there are many areas to specialize when it comes to behavioral therapy. For example, you can specialize to help veterans with PTSD, children with anxiety, adults with depression or former drug users with codependency issues- and that's just the surface.

Unfortunately, many people don't know how to use their words. Instead, it seems like people are really good at bottling up their feelings until they have a massive emotional meltdown. So what are some reasons people decide to see a therapist?

According to Dr. Collins, most people put off talking to a therapist until they are faced with an ultimatum or are deep in crisis. For many people, regular ongoing therapy helps them make changes to how they handle stress.

When asked about the skills he uses in his job, Dr. Collins cited listening as the most important skill. It was a skill he began to recognize when he was young. He recalls, "I was hanging out in the driveway listening to my friends talk about their problems. I remember thinking, 'I wonder if I could get paid for this.'" It was a thought that heavily influenced his future, because he went on to college to study psychology and eventually went to the University of North Dakota to finish his training.

When I asked him how his training prepared him for the pandemic, Dr. Collins said that he is seeing more people who are overwhelmed by the ongoing day-to-day stress that is now part of our lives. I liked the way he eloquently explained that the human brain is wired to respond to danger, like when a tiger is prowling. But the human brain is not wired to live in a cage with the tiger, and there we have our problem. Basically, this whole COVID-19 situation is difficult because there is no break in the stress. Dr. Collins explains that long-term stress erodes our coping mechanisms, making daily life more difficult and putting more people on edge.

Dr. Collins also shared a really great resource called the Behavioral Health Bridge, which, through a partnership between Sanford Health and the University of North Dakota, is launching virtual behavioral health options. One area focuses on coping with stress, worry and grief, and helps people to better recognize the signs of prolonged stress. Even better, the site provides suggestions on how to implement coping strategies to de-stress. See more at https://www.behavioralhealthbridge.org/Stress-and-Coping.html

Some of my favorite de-stressing activities include reading a new book, swimming and listening to music. I have found that upbeat music can be motivating and uplifting, so I try to stick with that. There are a lot of resources available that many of us can use to better interact with our environment and one another. I'll be seeking some out to help myself and hope you do the same.

If you are thinking about talking to a therapist, be sure to find one that works for you. You can begin by talking to your health care provider, or the Lake Region Human Service Center.


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